Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography in Her First Online Course

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Dolly Parton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barack Obama and family, Bruce Springsteen, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Gaga: name someone who has risen to the very top of the zeitgeist over the past few decades, and Annie Leibovitz has probably photographed them. Her images, in fact, have often come to stand for the images of her subjects in the culture: when we think of certain celebrities, we instinctively imagine them as they appeared on a Leibovitz-shot cover of Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair. Safe to say, then, that she knows a thing or two about how to take a picture that makes an impact.

The people at online education company Masterclass have now packaged that knowledge in "Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography," a course that joins their existing lineup that includes Helen Mirren on actingSteve Martin on comedyWerner Herzog on filmmaking, and Herbie Hancock on jazz. For a price of $90 (or $180 for a year-long pass to all of their classes), Masterclass offers a package of workbook-accompanied video lessons in which "Annie teaches you how to develop concepts, work with subjects, shoot with natural light, and bring images to life in post-production." (If you want to give this course as a gift, just click here.)

The early lessons in "Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography" cover subjects like memories of her own development as a photographer to discussions of her influences and her view of the medium itself. Later on, she gets into the real-life case study of shooting chef Alice Waters for Vanity Fair, digital post-production, how to come up with the right concept (ideally, so her career has shown, one just strange or daring enough to get people talking), and how to work with your subject. "There's this idea that in portraiture, it's the photographer's job to set the subject at ease," Leibovitz says in the class trailer above. "I don't believe that."

Few aspects of Leibovitz's method have drawn as much attention as the way she handles her subjects,  which tends to involve both developing enough of a relationship with them to gain some understanding of their inner lives and putting them in situations which, so she has studiously learned while getting to know them, may lie a bit outside of their comfort zone. Few of us will ever have that much face time with a photographer like Leibovitz, let alone enough to ask her in-depth questions about the craft, but if you suspect you might find yourself one day in a position to photograph the next Caitlyn Jenner, Mark Zuckerberg, or Kim Kardashian — or someone more important to you personally — the strategies explained in her Masterclass course will surely come in handy.

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Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


350 Animated Videos That Will Teach You Philosophy, from Ancient to Post-Modern

Philosophy is not an idle pursuit of leisured gentlemen and tenured professors, though the life circumstances of many a philosopher might make us think otherwise. The foremost example of a privileged philosopher is Marcus Aurelius, famous expositor of Stoicism, and also, incidentally, Emperor of Rome. Yet we must also bear in mind that Epictetus, the other most famous expositor of Stoicism, whom Aurelius quotes repeatedly in his Meditations, was born a slave.

Against certain tendencies of modern thinking, we might hazard to believe that both men shared enough common human experience to arrive at some universal principles fully applicable to everyday life. Stoicism, after all, is nothing if not practical. Consider, for example, the emperor’s advice below—how challenging it might be for anyone, and how beneficial, not only for the individual, but—as Aurelius makes plain—for everyone.

Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to mine, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of divinity, I can neither be harmed by any of them, nor no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my brother, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

Yes, a passage that might have come from the speeches of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, or Martin Luther King, Jr. also belongs to the philosophical traditions of ancient Rome, though in the mouth of an emperor it may not sound to us as compellingly radical.

Nowadays, several million more people have access to books, literacy, and leisure than in Marcus Aurelius’ era (and one wonders where even an emperor found the time), though few of us, it’s true, have access to a nobleman’s education. While currently under threat, the internet still provides us with a wealth of free content—and many of us are much better positioned than Epictetus was to educate ourselves about philosophical traditions, schools, and ways of thinking.

We can learn about the Stoics, for example—or get the gist, and hopefully a taste for more—with Alain de Botton’s video appetizer at the top, just one of 30 short animated videos on the philosophy YouTube channel of his School of Life. We can cruise through a summary of Aristotle’s views on “flourishing” in the video above, narrated by the always-affable Stephen Fry as part of the BBC’s “History of Ideas” series, currently up to 48 uniquely animated videos featuring other smart-sounding celebrity narrators like Harry Shearer and Gillian Anderson.

The Macat series of philosophy explainer videos (136 in total) may lack celebrity cred, but it makes up for it with some very thorough short summaries of important works in philosophy—as well as sociology, psychology, history, politics, economics, and literature. “The essential purpose of politics is freedom,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1958 The Human Condition, we learn above, a work of hers that is not focused on mass murder and totalitarianism. Arendt had much more to say, and in this book, she relies on a classical distinction well known to the Greeks and Romans and all who came after them: the contrast between two kinds of life—the vita activa and vita contemplativa.

While philosophy may have become much more accessible, it has also become less “open access”—in the sense of being a public affair, taking place in city squares and actively encouraged by statesmen and ordinary loiterers alike. For all its possibilities—and we hope they can remain—the internet has never been able to recreate the Athenian ideal of the philosophical public square, if such a thing ever really existed. But projects like Wireless Philosophy—sponsored by Yale, MIT, Duke, and other elite institutions—have sought for years to introduce people from every walk of life to the kinds of ideas that Athenians supposedly threw around like frisbees in their spare time, including Plato’s notion (via his mouthpiece, Socrates) of “the good life,” which University of New Orleans professor Chris Surprenent, summarizes above. See all of Wireless Philosophy's 130 animations here.

The material is out there. We've highlighted 350 philosophical animations above, and also separately gathered 170 Free Online Philosophy Courses. And, if you’re reading this, it’s a good bet you’ve probably got a little time to spare. If it’s an old-fashioned sales pitch you need to get going, consider that for just pennies, er, minutes a day, you can become more knowledgeable about ancient Greek and Roman thought, Kantian ethics, 20th century Critical Theory, Nietzsche, critical thinking skills, Scholastic theological thought, Buddhism, Wittgenstein, Sartre, etc., etc, etc., etc. That said, however, acquiring the concentration, discipline, and will to do your own thinking about what you’ve learned, and to apply it, has never been so free and easy to come by for anyone at any time in history.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Coffee Naps Will Perk You Up More Than Either Coffee, or Naps, Alone

We've all had a cup of coffee after a nap. But maybe we've been doing it all wrong. Maybe we should put the cup of coffee before the nap. It sounds counterintuitive. But apparently the coffee nap--a cup of joe followed immediately by a quick nap--has some scientific merits and unexpected health benefits.

Over at Vox, they've summarized the findings of researchers at Loughborough University in the UK, who found that "when tired participants took a 15-minute coffee nap, they went on to commit fewer errors in a driving simulator than when they were given only coffee, or only took a nap."

Or "a Japanese study found that people who took a caffeine nap before taking a series of memory tests performed significantly better on them compared with people who solely took a nap, or took a nap and then washed their faces or had a bright light shone in their eyes."

The accompanying Vox video above explains how the coffee nap works its magic. The biology and chemistry all get discussed in a quick two-minute clip.

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Will You Really Achieve Happiness If You Finally Win the Rat Race? Don’t Answer the Question Until You’ve Watched Steve Cutts’ New Animation

Illustrator Steve Cutts sets his latest animation, "Happiness," in a teeming urban environment, with hundreds of near identical cartoon rats standing in for human drudges in an unfulfilling, and not unfamiliar race.

Packed subway cars, a bombardment of advertising, soul-deadening office jobs, and Black Friday sales are just a few of the indignities Cutts’ rodents are subjected to, to the tune of Bizet’s "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle."

Rampant over-consumption—a major preoccupation for this artist—offers illusory relief, and a great deal of fun for viewers with the time to hit pause, to better savor the grim details.

The maximalist frames read like a gratifying perversion of Richard Scarry’s relentlessly sunny Busytown. As with Cutts' 80s-throwback Simpson’s couch gag: pop-culture references and visual input whip by at subliminal warp speed. 

They may also serve as an antidote to the sort of messaging we’re constantly on the receiving end of, whether we live in city, country or somewhere in-between. Check out the scene as Cutts pans up from the subway platform, 52 seconds in:

The panty-clad female model for Blah cologne’s fashionably black and white ad is emaciated nearly to the point of death.

“You’re better than laces” flatters the latest (laceless) shoe from a swoosh-bedecked footwear manufacturer, while a radiator-colored beverage floats above the motto “Just drink it, morons.”

Krispo Flakes fight depression with “the bits other cereals don’t want.”

Heaven help us all, there’s even a poster for TRUMP The Musical.

This freeze-frame scrutiny could make an excellent activity for any class where middle and high schoolers are encouraged to think critically about their role as consumers.

As Cutts, a one-time employee of the digital marketing agency, Isobar, who contributed to campaigns for such global giants as Coca-Cola, Google, Reebok, and Toyota, told Reverb Press in 2015:

These are things that affect us all on a fundamental level so naturally they’re a main focus for a lot of my work. Humanity has the power to be great in so many ways and yet at the same time we are fundamentally flawed. I think it’s the conflict between these two that fascinates me the most. As a race of beings we’ve made incredible achievements in such a short space, but at the same time we seem so overwhelmingly intent on destroying ourselves and everything around us. It would be very interesting to see where we’ll be in a hundred years. The term insanity is intriguing – it’s almost like we’re encouraged to act in a way that seems genuinely insane when you look at it objectively, but it’s often accepted as normal right now. I think we will have to evolve beyond our current thinking and way of doing things if we want to survive.

See more of Cutts’ animated work here. And while he doesn’t go out of his way to hype his online store, a gallery quality print of The Rat Trap would make a fantastic gift from your cubicle mate’s Secret Santa. (HURRY! TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!!)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Tree of Modern Art: Elegant Drawing Visualizes the Development of Modern Art from Delacroix to Dalí (1940)

Selecting certain features, simplifying them, exaggerating them, and using them to provide a deep insight, at a glance, into the subject as a whole: such is the art of the caricaturist, one that Miguel Covarrubias elevated to another level in the early- to mid-20th century. Those skills, combined with his knowledge as an art historian, also served him well when he drew "The Tree of Modern Art." This aesthetically pleasing diagram first appeared in Vanity Fair in May of 1933, a time when many readers of such magazines would have felt a great curiosity about how, exactly, all these new paintings and sculptures and such — many of which didn't seem to look much like the paintings and sculptures they knew at all — related to one another.

"Because it stops in 1940, the tree fails to account for abstract expressionism and other post–World War II movements," writes Vox's Phil Edwards, in a piece that includes a version of the Covarrubias' 1940 "Tree of Modern Art" revision with clickable examples of relevant artwork.

But "the organizational structure alone reveals a surprisingly large amount about the way art has evolved," including how it "becomes broader and more inclusive over time," eventually turning into a "global affair"; how "artistic schools have become more aesthetically diverse"; how "the canon evolved quickly"; and how "all art is intertwined," created as it has so long been by artists who "work together, borrow from each other, and grow in tandem."

You can also find the "Tree of Modern Art" at the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, a holding that illustrates, as it were, just how wide a swath of information design the term "map" can encompass. "The date is estimated based on the verso of the paper being a blue lined base map of the National Park Service dated 12/28/39," says the collection's site. "This drawing was found in the papers of B. Ashburton Tripp" — also a mapmaker in the collection — "and we assume that Covarrubias and Tripp were friends (verified by Tripp's descendants) and that the blue line base map was something Tripp was working on in his landscape architecture business."

The legend describes the tree as having been "planted 60 years ago," a number that has now passed 130. Many more leaves have grown off those branches of impressionism, expressionism, post-impressionism, surrealism, cubism, and futurism in the years since Covarrubias drew the tree, but for someone to go back and augment such a fully-realized creation wouldn't do at all — as with any work of art, modern or otherwise.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

See Ridley Scott’s 1973 Bread Commercial—Voted England’s Favorite Advertisement of All Time

I have often thought that eating some really serious brown bread is a bit like pushing a bike up a very steep hill, a hill called “health.” So what a surprise to find that in 2006 a poll of 1,000 Britons voted this 1973 ad for Hovis bread as the Favorite British Commercial of All Time. And none other than Ridley Scott directed it. Indeed, this story of a young lad delivering bread by bicycle up a steep cobblestone mining-town street is laced through with nostalgia and a sentimental use of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. (So beloved is it that Brits often request the classical work on radio as “the Hovis music.”)

Before Ridley Scott became a blockbuster film director, he cut his teeth by directing episodic television in the UK, and then forming an advertising production company with his brother Tony called RSA Films (Ridley Scott Associates). According to Scott, he was involved in the production of roughly 2,700 commercials over the company’s 10 years.

This iconic ad was one of several he directed that year for Hovis, but this is the one that stuck. It might be the simplicity of the ad, the Sisyphean struggle of its young protagonist (who at least gets to easily ride home), or any number of factors, but it would be a stretch to really see the auteur in this film. If anything, it’s reminiscent of his kitchen sink meets French New Wave short film from 1965, "Boy and Bicycle," which is interesting more as an oddity and a starring vehicle for his brother than a great film.

The Independent tracked down the boy in the Hovis ad, Carl Barlow, who was 13 at the time, but is now 57 and a retired firefighter.

"It was pure fate that I got the part as the Hovis boy. I was down to the last three, and it turned out that one of the two boys couldn't ride a bike, and the other wouldn't cut his hair into the pudding bowl style - it was the Seventies after all. As the only boy who could ride a bike and would cut his hair, I got the part."

This year, as part of an ad campaign for Evans Bicycles, Mr. Barlow made his way to the top of the hill one more time, with the help of an electric bike:

The original commercial is not Ridley Scott’s most famous one. That would go to his Apple Macintosh “1984” ad that screened during the Super Bowl. This list shows a few more that Scott directed, into the 1990s.

Finally, an iconic commercial invites parody, and, in fact, cherished comedians The Two Ronnies made fun of the Hovis ad in this brief skit from 1978.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Underground Cartoonist Robert Crumb Creates an Illustrated Introduction to Franz Kafka’s Life and Work

The use of an author’s name as an adjective to describe some kind of general style can seem, well, lazy, in a wink-wink, “you know what I mean,” kind of way. One must leave it to readers to decide whether deploying a “Baldwinian” or a “Woolfian," or an “Orwellian” or “Dickensian," is justified. When it comes to “Kafkaesque,” we may find reason to consider abandoning the word altogether. Not because we don’t know what it means, but because we think it means what Kafka meant, rather than what he wrote. Maybe turning him into shorthand, “a clever reference,” writes Chris Barsanti, prepares us to seriously misunderstand his work.

The problem motivated author David Zane Mairowitz and underground comics legend Robert Crumb to create a graphic biography, first published in 1990 as Kafka for Beginners. “The book,” writes Barsanti of a 2007 Fantographics edition called Kafka, “states its case rather plain: ‘No writer of our time, and probably none since Shakespeare, has been so widely over-interpreted and pigeon holed… [Kafkaesque] is an adjective that takes on almost mythic proportions in our time, irrevocably tied to fantasies of doom and gloom, ignoring the intricate Jewish Joke that weaves itself through the bulk of Kafka’s work.’” Or, as Maria Popova puts it, “Kafka’s stories, however grim, are nearly always also… funny.”

Much of that humor derives from “the author’s coping mechanisms amid Prague’s anti-Semitic cultural climate.” Mairowitz describes Kafka’s Jewish humor as “healthy anti-Semitism.... but sooner or later, even the most hateful of Jewish self-hatreds has to turn around and laugh at itself.” Crumb provides graphic illustrations of Kafka’s especially mordant, absurdist humor in adaptations of The Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, In the Penal Colony, and The Judgement and brief sketches from The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika. These illustrations draw out the grotesque nature of Kafka’s humor from the start, Barstanti notes, “with a gruesome graphic rendering of Kafka’s nightmares of his own death.”

Kafka’s self-violence leaps out at us in its incredible specificity, which can produce horrors, like the ghoulish execution of “In the Penal Colony," and darkly funny fantasies like a “pork butcher’s knife” sending thin slices of Kafka flying around the room, "due to the speed of the work.” Turned into cold cuts, as it were. Crumb’s illustration (top), imagines this grisly joke with exquisite glee—halo of blood spurts like squiggly exclamation marks and bowler hat taking flight. Along with Mairowitz’s literary analysis and biographical detail, Crumb’s finely rendered illustrations make Kafka an “invaluable book,” Barsanti writes, one that gives Kafka “back his soul.”

One only wishes they had paid more attention to Kafka’s weird animal stories, some of the funniest he ever wrote. Stories like “Investigations of a Dog” and “In Our Synagogue” express with more vivid imagination and wicked humor Kafka's profoundly ambivalent relationship to Judaism and to himself as a “tortured, gentle, cruel, and brilliant," and yet very funny, outsider.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

500,000 Years of Humans Degrading Nature Captured in a Biting Three Minute Animation by Steve Cutts

English animator Steve Cutts has a knack for satirizing the excesses of modern society. Just watch his 2012 short animation "Man," and you'll see what I mean. In three short minutes, Cutts covers a lot of ground, documenting the rise of human civilization and its ever-escalating assault on nature and our natural resources. It's funny. It's biting. And it may give you pause as we gear up for Christmas, the apotheosis of American materialism.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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What Happens When a Musician Plays Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” on a $25 Kids’ Guitar at Walmart

There's a maxim that says, "It's not the guitar, it's the player." And the video above bears it out.

In this clip, musician Clay Shelburn and his pal Zac Stokes visit a Walmart at 3 a.m. and pick up a Disney Cars 2 toy guitar. Next, they proceed to play Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” and unleash the full potential of that $25 guitar. The Barbies all go crazy.

When it comes to the blues, any old guitar will do. That we know. But if you care to watch Shelburn play the same song on a guitar that runs north of $1,000, check out the video below.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Hear Paul McCartney’s Experimental Christmas Mixtape: A Rare & Forgotten Recording from 1965

If you hear someone complaining about the scarcity of good Christmas music, you know they’re doing something wrong. As we pointed out a couple years back, you can keep a Christmas party going for hours upon hours with holiday classics and funky originals from James Brown, Johnny Cash, The Jackson 5, Dinah Washington, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Low, Bad Religion, Christopher Lee, The Ventures, and so much more besides.

And then there’s the Beatles, whom we wouldn’t ever think of as an acquired taste, but whose Christmas records may only appeal to a special kind of fan, one who appreciates, and perhaps remembers, the band’s aggressively cheerful spirit of marketing. Throughout the 60s, they made short, whimsical Christmas “flexi discs” for fan club members. These are amusing, but hardly essential, though I’d recommend putting 1967’s “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” on any playlist, holiday or otherwise.

While the band made their light and breezy 1965 Christmas record, Paul McCartney undertook a decidedly different holiday solo side project—recording experimental tape loops at home, including, writes author Richie Unterberger, “singing, acting, and sketches.” Only “three copies were pressed, one each for John, George, and Ringo.” As McCartney himself described the recording, “I put together something crazy, something left field, just for the other Beatles, a fun thing which they could play late in the evening.”

You can hear what survives of the recording above. McCartney calls it “Unforgettable” and begins the disc in an American announcer’s voice, “a fast-talking New York DJ,” Rolling Stone writes, followed by Nat King Cole, then “an inventive selection of songs by the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and Martha and the Vandellas.” McCartney described the project as “a magazine program: full of weird interviews, experimental music, tape loops” and “some tracks I knew the others hadn’t heard.”

Unfortunately, much of the experimentation has not survived, or made it to a digital format. Nonetheless, the tape “might be the earliest evidence of the Beatles using home recording equipment for specifically experimental/avant-garde purposes,” Unterberger notes, “something that John and Paul did in the last half of the 1960s, though John’s ventures in this field are more widely known than Paul’s.” It isn’t Christmas music, exactly, but when you put it on, you’ll know it began its life as a special mixtape McCartney made just for his bandmates, not the fans. We might think of it as the holiday album he really wanted to make.

via Dangerous Minds/Rolling Stone

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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